5 Benefits of Child-led Play

 What is child-led play? Child-led play is letting the child lead in THEIR play. Simple question, simple answer, not so simple to do. Child-led play gives you the chance as a parent to connect with your child in a way that puts them in charge and let’s them express their own ideas. If we think of toys as children’s words and play is their language (thank you, Gary Landreth), joining them alongside their play rather than directing it gives them the opportunity to communicate with us in a totally different way. 

“When you do for a child what they can do for themselves, you teach them they are incompetent.”

Gary Landreth

To use an adult comparison, directing a child’s play is similar to giving someone directions on driving to Burger King and then someone else continually interrupting with their own directions going to Taco Bell. They are not communicating the same idea–at all! By hy-jacking a child’s play, as a parent, you are placing your own ideas onto them which crushes their own brilliant creativity and expression. It is not our place to tell a child the right and the wrong way to play—in doing so, we are only hindering their confidence in their own abilities. In a way, we are saying, “The way you are doing it is wrong, this is my way of doing it which is right.” Can you see how an adult communicating that on a regular basis to a child would be defeating?

Child-led play can be extremely empowering! To have an adult join you on the floor and show interest in what you’re doing?! How awesome is that! No instruction, no direction, no correcting (even when they are calling the toy bunny a dog), and accepting who they are, in that moment.  

You’ve switched gears from, “You’re wrong, I’m right,” to “Tell me what you are thinking, let me learn from you, I appreciate who you are and what you are communicating to me right now.” Not giving direction, not instructing on how to build, just accepting and entering into the child’s world. This is a time to put cell phones away, turn the TV off, and invest in the relationship with your child. Send that message to them, “I enjoy YOU and YOU are the most important thing to me right now.” 

5 Benefits of Child-led play:

1. Builds confidence, it puts the child in charge; having an adult/parent validate their thoughts gives a boost of healthy confidence and self-esteem.

2. Allows you to enter into your child’s world: they can show you what they want, without you giving direction or instructing them on the “correct” way to play.

3. Teaches them to rely on themselves rather than pleasing others. Through child-led play, they will learn the importance of being accepted by their own thoughts and ideas and feel validated for who they are as a person, they have a voice, and they matter.   

4. Allows for self-led exploration and problem solving—it’s all about the process! Learning comes from a deeper place when it is experienced.

5. Strengthens parent-child bond through undivided attention and complete presence. This reiterates the idea in your child that they are valued, loved, and accepted for who they are.

You can’t go wrong! Start small, 10 minutes a day. Just take a breathe, slow-down and play!

Family Games that Teach Feelings

Simple, social-emotional games to play with the all ages!

In this time of uncertainty and social distancing, I wanted to throw out some fun and simple games for parents to play with their children to support exploring some of the BIG feelings that they may be experiencing right now.

1. Catch-A-Feeling : Write different feelings on a balloon with a permanent marker and throw it around, whatever feeling your hand/thumb lands on, share something about that feeling (how your body feels, a time you experienced that, what your face looks like..). You can also write down some silly questions to write on the balloon (or add numbers to the balloon and when the the finger lands on a number, have it correlate–that will increase engagement for a longer period of time.

2. Balloon Bop-It: Grab a whole bunch of balloons and write 1 feeling on each balloon– as a family, try to keep them up in the air. If one drops, everyone goes around and shares a time they experienced that feeling.

3. Super Stories: Print off an outline of a person or animal. Spend time creating a character–use stickers, markers, glue, etc.. Together, create a story about that character, I usually start off with once upon a time.. then LET YOUR CHILD LEAD and create a story together (you’re pretty much there to make the sentences make sense–Use, “I wonder what the zebra’s family is like, What does the zebra like to do for fun, Tell me about your zebra’s friends” to help develop the character. This can be a great way to support your child with problem solving and sometimes they will give you a tiny bit of what is going on with them through the story. Plus, they LOVE when you write down everything they say and read it back to them. Make it a team effort, and let siblings create the story together if that fits better for your family!

4. Mindfulness Moments: I’m pretty anti-screen time, BUT there are some useful videos to focus on deep breathing (belly breathing, dragon breathing, balloon breathing) and ways to move your body (yoga, exercise). Go Noodle Mindfulness as some fun relaxation techniques as well.

5. Feelings Uno or Candyland–or really any game with colors. Assign a feeling, silly question, or would-you-rather to a color card. Take turns playing the game and each time a color card is drawn, you talk about that certain feeling, silly question, or would- you-rather. For example, when playing Uno, write down RED=mad, Draw 2= silly question, GREEN= happy and begin playing the game. Each time one of those cards is showing, that person shares (or asks) something related to the topic (When I’m mad, my muscles get tight… I was really happy going on vacation last summer or when the sun is shining… If you could live in a house shaped like anything, what would you live in?). You can assign something every color, but I’ve found that takes WAY longer to complete and it tends to lose the excitement when the colors are drawn.

The ways to adapt these games are endless! Drop a comment and let me know what creative twists have worked for your family!

Hey, Huron Community– What is Play Therapy?

Play is a developmentally appropriate way for children to express their thoughts and feelings. Just as adults use words to communicate, children use play as a way to give insight into what they might be experiencing. We cannot expect that children have the  emotional vocabulary to tell us when something is bothering them. Instead, we might see changes in their sleep patterns, attitude or behavior. 

Play is a way to meet the child where they’re at by entering into their world. Carefully selected toys, stories, art supplies, puppets, play-doh, games, legos, blocks, dolls, and sand are just some of the tools you may find in my office. As a Play Therapist, I am trained to understand and interpret a child’s primary language of play and communicate back in a way that challenges their core beliefs to bring healing. Through the natural process of play, a child can move towards self acceptance, process their thoughts and feelings, and learn healthy ways to deal with their life experiences. Connection in the counseling room is used to enhance a child’s feeling of power and builds self-confidence. All children have a voice and deserve to feel valued, special, and safe within the relationship with their play therapist. 

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul. “

-Friedrich Froebel

Play Therapy is most helpful for children ages 4-11 and used to support children dealing with (but not limited to) feelings of anxiety, depression, social challenges, low self-esteem, grief, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, divorce, foster care placement, bullying, life transitions, and trauma experiences. I am a Registered Play Therapist and in addition to my licensure requirements for counseling, I have taken additional coursework to meet the standards to be a play therapist. The play that occurs in my office is child-led and purposeful which allows the child to heal and grow in a therapeutic way. 

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood

-Mr. Rogers

Want to learn more? Check out my post on 5 Benefits to Child-led Play.

Learn more about Play Therapy with YouTube:

 Introducing Andrew

 Association for Play Therapy, Parent’s Corner. 

Overview of Play Therapy

Hey, Huron Community–What is Counseling?

Hey Huron Community– What is Counseling? 

To several adults, the word “counseling” is intimidating. You may believe that asking for help, especially from a mental health professional, confirms the subconscious thought that asking for help is weak. The purpose of this article is to familiarize you with some of the unknowns of counseling. I hope to end the stigma associated with seeking counseling. 

In my practice, individual counseling is focused on building an honest connection between two people–yourself and the counselor. The relationship creates a safe place to explore personal values, conflicts, and feelings. This type of reflective discussion brings awareness to thoughts and feelings, and helps create an understanding of where those thoughts and feelings came from. Sometimes this requires digging deep and exploring childhood memories, parenting styles, attachment patterns, traumatic events, and coping mechanisms. This allows the brain to understand and heal from life experiences. You are in control of the process and I, as your counselor, will not go places you are not ready to share. No two people are alike, and no two people are on the same journey. 

Vulnerability is overwhelming at times–however you won’t be there alone. Counseling can help you discover answers to your own questions. It helps relieve any shame, pain, stress, guilt, depression, or anxiety you may be experiencing. Gaining a better understanding of yourself brings feelings of freedom and strength. As a counselor, I do not give advice or tell you what to do. As a counselor, I focus on connecting with you, reflecting back to you, and empowering you to move in the direction you want to go. 

Connect. Reflect. Empower.